Sula Questions and Answers
by Toni Morrison

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How does Toni Morrison use language to make the burning of Plum seem less horrific than the burning of Hannah in Sula?

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Morrison uses figurative language in Sula to make the burning of Plum seem less horrific than the burning of Hannah.  In the chapter titled "1923," Hannah asks Eva why she burned Plum to death.  Eva reveals that she wanted Plum to die like a man--his drug addiction was eating him alive and rendering him unable to care for himself.  When Eva sets the bed on fire, the language used to describe the scene creates a tone of comfort, as though Plum were being returned to his Creator.  The narrative reads:  "He felt twilight" and "Plum lay in snug delight."  Eva is almost in a daze when she comes out of the room.  However, when Hannah's dress catches on fire in the yard, the scene is described in realistic terms and the tone is frantic.  Eva jumps from the window to try to save her daughter, and the reader learns that Sula was content to watch her mother burn.  These details stand in sharp contrast to those used to describe Plum's death.

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